Spicy grilled pork chops with fruit salsa

Heat up the flavors, not your kitchen, with outdoor grilled chops and mango cilantro salsa.

Blue Kitchen
Grilled chops flavored with chili powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper are topped with mango, cilantro, tomatoes, red onions, and jalapeño pepper.

Harry S Truman famously said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” I took the 33rd president at his word recently, although probably not as he intended. When the temperatures finally (and temporarily) dropped below dangerous levels here in Chicago, but were still high enough that I didn’t want to heat up the kitchen, I fired up the grill instead.

I fired up our taste buds too, although only a little, with these slightly spicy pork chops seasoned with chili powder, cumin and cayenne pepper. Then I piled on color and flavor with a quick, lively salsa. Served with a side of refried beans (OK, we heated up the kitchen a little) and a salad, the chops made for a delicious weeknight dinner. 

Pork plays well with fruit flavors, something I’ve relied on more than a few times here. And it picks up a wonderful smokiness on the grill. Combine those two qualities and you take it to a whole other level.

For the salsa, I started with mango. Native to the Indian subcontinent, mangoes have a silky texture and a taste described as a delicate blend of peach, pineapple and apricot. That said, the whole is more than the sum of the parts – rich, fragrant, and exotic. To the diced mango, I added tomatoes (also a fruit, but only by a technicality to me), cilantro (if you’re among those who can’t stand it, substitute parsley), red onion, and jalapeño pepper.

But I encourage you to play with your salsa. I used cherry tomatoes, but a regular tomato would work too. Don’t have red onion? Substitute scallions or chives. For the pepper, go as fiery or mild as you like. The jalapeño I had this time was not spicy at all, even though I kept some of the seed and the ribs –you could even substitute a little green bell pepper for the flavor alone, if you like. You can also add a little cayenne pepper if you want to heat things up a bit.

Spicy Grilled Pork Chops with Mango Cilantro Salsa
 Serves 4

For the chops:
 2 tablespoons olive oil
 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
 4 bone-in pork chops (I used pork loin rib chops)
 salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salsa:
 1 ripe mango
 6 to 10 cherry tomatoes, depending on size
 3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
 1/2 large jalapeño pepper (or a whole small one), finely chopped
 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves (torn in half if large)

A quick note here – make sure the salsa is completely prepared before putting the chops on the grill. They cook up quickly (see Kitchen Notes), and you need to keep an eye on them, not be fiddling with mangoes in the kitchen.

Prepare the chops. In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil and spices. Set aside. Remove chops from the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking to come to room temperature. If you’re using a charcoal grill, you can do this when you fire up the grill to let the charcoals get hot. Pat chops dry with paper towels and brush on both sides with the oil and spices. Place on a platter and set aside.

Prepare the salsa. Peel and cube the mango and place it in a large bowl. Rinse and quarter the cherry tomatoes and add them to the bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and stir gently with a wooden spoon to combine. Set aside to let flavors combine.

Grill the chops. When the coals are hot, prepare for direct grilling. (If you’re using a gas grill, do the same – if you use wood chips, I would encourage that for the nice smokiness.) Brush the grate with oil and grill the chops on the first side for a minute or two uncovered (watch for flare-ups). Cover the grill and let them cook a bit longer, a total of 4 to 5 minutes for the first side. Turn chops and repeat the process, cooking until a quick-read thermometer registers about 145 degrees F., when inserted into the thickest part for medium rare to medium (see Kitchen Notes below). If your chops are on the thin side, check for doneness at about 8 minutes total cooking time. Remove from grill, tent with foil and let rest for about 5 minutes before serving. Plate chops on individual serving plates, give the salsa a final stir and spoon it over the chops. Serve.

Kitchen Notes

Is it done? Cooking any kind of meat to proper doneness is always filled with variables, especially on the grill. How hot your coals are, how thick the meat is and whether you remembered to let it come to room temperature before cooking it all factor in. A quick-read thermometer is a vital tool in accurately judging doneness, but only if it’s used properly. Here’s a little tip I learned watching an episode of America’s Test Kitchen, a show that I feel mostly sucks all the air out of the room while you’re watching it (“We cooked this recipe 437 different times until we got the results we wanted. Is my bow tie on straight?”), but that occasionally shares useful tips.

Like this one: For a quick-read thermometer to give an accurate reading, you have to insert the tip of the probe far enough into the meat. Otherwise, the probe will also be reading the air temperature around it. The end is often marked some way – with an engraved line or a slightly different finish. My Sur La Table thermometer’s probe is narrower at the end; that entire section should be inserted in the meat. Unfortunately, chops, burgers and even chicken parts can sometimes be too thin for the probe to completely inserted from the top. So when you’re ready to test the temperature of a thinner cut of meat, pick it up with your tongs and insert the probe from the side. You’ll be amazed at the differences in the readings.

Hungry for more grilled chops from Blue Kitchen? Try these Vietnamese-inspired Turmeric/Ginger Grilled Pork Chops, these Asian Grilled Pork Chops with ginger, garlic, sesame oil and lime juice or Pork Chops with Rosemary, marinated in red wine, garlic and rosemary.

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